Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band (from the album Dance Songs for Hard Times available on Family Owned Records) (by Brian Rock)
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band finds rhythm for their Blues on their second album, Dance Songs for Hard Times. Chock full of explosive, up-tempo Delta and Chicago Blues, the album is a karate chop to the last year of covid-induced malaise. For a three-piece band (where one member plays only the washboard) this group delivers a big damn sound. Band leader Reverend Peyton manages to fingerpick a bass line while simultaneously riffing off ‘in your face’ guitar leads. But the biggest part of this band might just be Reverend Peyton’s voice. Part Howlin’ Wolf, part Little Walter, and part angry grizzly bear, he belts out Blues songs like a chainsaw wielding mountain moonshiner fending off federal ATF agents. With no session musicians or post production enhancements, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band creates a rough around the edges, larger than life Voodoo Blues opus that plays like the soundtrack to the rumpus scene in Maurice Sendak’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.
“Ways and Means” opens the festivities with ZZ Top-inspired guitar riffs while Reverend Peyton hums like a shaman in a trance state. Finally breaking through in words, Peyton sings ‘I got all the shine I just ain’t got the sheen’. Pounding drums add gusto to this working man anthem that proves the old adage, ‘it’s not what you got, it’s the way that you use it’. Without a large bank account, Peyton can still boast, ‘my knife is sharp, my guitar’s never flat… king of the laundromat’.
“Rattle Can” combines slide guitar with high octane Rockabilly to celebrate the joys of shaking things up. “Too Cool to Dance” continues the Rockabilly feel as it delivers the central message of the album. After being cooped up for a year, Rev. Peyton urges people to seize the day and enjoy the moment; or as he puts it, ‘we may not get another chance. Please don’t tell me you’re too cool to dance’. Playing an old 1954 Supro Dual Tone electric guitar and singing straight from the heart, Peyton is so unconcerned with being cool, that he achieves James Dean level coolness.
The Big Damn Band keeps the Blues party rolling with “Sad Songs”, “Crime to Be Poor”, “’Til We Die”, and “Nothing’s Easy but You and Me”. In each case the upbeat music belies lyrics of struggling to get by. But as in all good Blues, its power lies in its ability to confront life’s hardships with bravado. If you can face it, you can beat it.
The band adds nuance, without losing intensity, to “I’ll Pick You Up”, which can only be described as Talking Heads meets Muddy Waters. They add touches of Gospel to “Come Down Angels”. They even manage to shift out of high gear for three minutes on the Piedmont Blues of “Dirty Hustlin’.”
These are indeed hard times we are living through. We can either try to hide from them or we can face them. Dance Songs for Hard Times encourages us to do the latter. Not shying away from the realities of the struggle, it gives a forceful assertion that we will survive; and not just survive, but dance in triumph. By embracing the Blues, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band gives us a big damn dose of hope. (by Brian Rock)
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Mo Kenney (from the album Covers available on Sheri Jones Entertainment)
A curious thing happens with songwriters. As much as they bury past love and lives in the storyline of a song there is always a big white light shining on what makes them tick, and possibly explode, when a cover song is included on the album. On her recent release, Mo Kenney bares the soul she has carried with her, the cuts on Covers tracing a line from teenage years picking notes out on a guitar to an artist looking back and re-imagining her muses as she adds the personal touch built around her own sound. Collecting songs from peers, contemporaries, and influences, Mo Kenney offers her version of tracks from Daniel Romano (“Hard on You”), Stone Temple Pilots (“Sour Girl”), Loudon Wainwright III (“Swimming Song”), and The Kinks (“I’m Not Like Everybody Else”).
A longing resonates from Mo Kenney that is matched by the sad guitar notes wrapping around Patsy Cline’s “You Belong to Me”, fueled by the same smoldering fire that burns in Big Star’s coming of age tune “Thirteen”. The instrumentation that backs the tracks on Covers is sparse, the echoey piano in Guided by Voices’ “Game of Pricks” the perfect cushion breathy for the whisper Mo Kenney gives the storyline as she fortifies the tale of love found in The Magnetic Fields’ “Strange Powers” with a quiet force mirroring the powerful love in the song. Guitar chords pepper the rhythm underneath “Yer So Bad” as Mo Kenney takes the Tom Petty track into a dreamscape.
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Ottoman Turks (from the album Ottoman Turks II available on State Fair Records)
Born in Dallas, Texas, Ottoman Turks was a labor of love for its band members as they dedicated themselves to other projects in their collective paths. High school friends who shared a love of deep, meaningful music, thought-provoking and incendiary, captured within the confines of a raucous Rock’n’Roll song. The core of Ottoman Turks, Nathan Mongol Wells (vocals, rhythm guitar), Billy Law (bass, vocals), and Paul Hinojo (drums) found themselves without a lead guitar, asking Billy’s childhood friend to sit in for a single show. The friend, Joshua Ray Walker, stayed on-stage becoming a full-time member for Ottoman Turks and filling out the quartet.
Ever watched a fear-of-god film from the Fire Department showing how quickly a small fire can rage and roar, engulfing a room in seconds? That’s the sound of Ottman Turks II, the recent release from the band. Opening track, “Wound Up”, chews up chords and notes, spitting them out in a revolving rhythm as Ottoman Turks slow the beat to jittery for the tale of “Cigarettes and Alcohol”, snarl an intro for “American Male”, and shout out “Low Down Blue Dog Whine” on a hillbilly honky tonk hoot. Ottoman Turks II churns out a Southwest tale, dosing a Spanish novella with a speed bump to double-time the vocal spit splashing over “Vaquero”. The slapped-bass beat of “Rootless Tree” shudders with an evil smirk as a pounding rhythm walks on mighty steps across “35 to Life”. A hell howl choir gathers to bring in the rumble rhythm underneath “Militant Preacher” as the pulpit it taken over by the main tent rants of “Conspiracy Freak” while Ottoman Turks saddle up for a Country ramble in “Travelin’ Blues” and slide into a Blues noir groove to warn of “Zoostack Lightnin’”.
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Natalie D-Napoleon (from the album You Wanted to Be the Shore but Instead You Were the Sea available as a self-release) (by Chris Wheatley)
By her own account, Australian/American singer-songwriter Natalie D-Napoleon took an entirely new approach for her latest album. ‘All my life I've written 'personal' songs’. After a while it burnt me out’. Retreating to the front porch of her 100-year-old Californian cottage, D-Napoleon sought a gentler form of inspiration. ‘I sat there and wrote and wrote and wrote. As the songs began to flow, a theme emerged — I was telling stories of women that passed me by. Women have long been the muse in song-writing, but it’s been a very one-dimensional view. Rarely have our complexities been portrayed — I wanted to change that’. It's an admirable sentiment, and a rich vein to be mined by this thoughtful artist who is also a literal poet (in 2018 she was awarded the Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize for her poem First Blood: A Sestina). For this set of songs, her first new material in eight years, Natalie D-Napoleon is joined by James Connolly on bass/co-production duties, Doug Pettibone on guitars and mandolin, and Dan Phillips on piano and percussion.
Opener “Thunder Rumor” makes for a startling beginning, a dark and moody rolling tune that swaggers with old Americana style. Some fine acoustic guitar playing counterpoints nicely against rumbling drums, deep bass, and crashing overtones. Natalie D-Napoleon's voice has an old Country/Folk feel, capable of enough focused energy to shine through this dense arrangement of considerable power. D-Napoleon's new-found approach clearly resulted in an emotionally cathartic experience. Through this track and others, her expressive strength burns bright. “Oh, How to Break a Spell”, which begins as a quieter, more reflective piece, is no less engaging. Acoustic guitar does a fine job of driving this song, which unfurls into a wide-open chorus full of lovely bowed strings, piano adornments, and heavy, intense percussion.
This juxtaposition of Natalie D-Napoleon's light and subtle yet heartfelt vocals against a large and far-reaching backdrop results in some striking music. It's a wonder so few musicians can create such a 'big' sound. “No Longer Mine” shuffles and rattles with tambourine beats, more of that percussive acoustic guitar, and a rising/falling arrangement which dips and swells with reverberating strength. A jaunty, almost sing-a-long, chorus fits nicely into the mix. ‘I thought she was your sister, until I saw you kiss her’ sings D-Napoleon, and it is indeed refreshing to hear the 'other side of the story'. The title track is a stormy, stark, and lovely Country-Folk ballad. Pedal-steel flourishes sparkle around the edges of a warm blanket of sound before the song whips itself into a mighty whirlwind. Through it all, it is Natalie D-Napoleon's voice which does a remarkable job of anchoring the music, retaining a personal connection to the listener, and keeping the large-scale drama at once also intimate and moving.
“Mother of Exiles” continues this vein of impassioned, grand musical statements married to highly individual, nuanced lyric and delivery. Natalie D-Napoleon echoes the humanity found in classic Folk songs from around the world with an earthy, Rootsy feel dialed up to maximum. This balance between fierce, stomping sounds and ageless Country vibes has been done before but perhaps not with the delicacy of touch and earnest songwriting which Natalie D-Napoleon brings. There's no show-boating on display, just unfeigned passion welling up from that deep spring which lies within us all: the desire to make sense of the world and of our place in it. That's what much Roots music is about and, if such is your taste, you can't go for wrong with You Wanted to Be the Shore but Instead You Were the Sea.
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Sunny War (from the album Simple Syrup available on Hen House Studios) (by Chris Wheatley)
Based in Los Angeles, singer-songwriter and street-musician Sunny War is not your typical guitarist, nor your typical anything for that matter. For a start, she plays her six-string in a manner repurposed from banjo techniques, playing the bass strings with her thumb while using her forefinger upstrokes to sound notes and chords. The other fingers are left unused. Then too, Sunny War is clearly a deeply committed player, whose creativity and sensibilities are indelibly entwined with her art. Over the last few months she has marched for Black Lives Matter and founded a chapter of non-profit organization Food Not Bombs, distributing vegan food to the homeless. Her new album Simple Syrup is as deeply personal as all of her work. Focusing on a core trio of War, bassist Ayron Davis, and drummer Paul Allen, it is, says Sunny ‘an album you can listen to when you want to get away’.
Album opener “Lucid Lucy” drifts on a cloud of finger-picked guitar and bowed strings. Sunny War's voice is emotive and highly expressive, with a distinctive edge and, at the same time, a pleasing smoothness. Her guitar weaves deceptively simple patterns which sparkle with arresting tones. ‘Keep your eyes closed, closed real tight, let them shuffle at the speed of light’. Lyrically, War is never less than interesting. There's plenty of invention here, a certain dreamy lucidity which skips and flutters, but is kept grounded by Sunny War's earthy delivery. “Mama's Milk”, by contrast, bounces with a shuffling Funk beat, replete with shimmering cymbals and more of War's guitar, which jumps and runs like a summer stream. It is an ear-catching track, with an irrepressible vibe pitched somewhere between upbeat Americana and old-school R&B.
“Like Nina” slows things down again with some melodic acoustic work playfully running alongside electric guitar. It's a track that takes its time and is all the better for it. This is an impressionistic Turner-like musical canvas, where shapes coalesce and dissipate, and shining points of focus glimmer and gleam. When the vocals kick in, the interplay between voice and guitar is arresting. There's something of a call-and-response work-song feel to this piece. It's a track which lingers long in the soul. “A Love So True” unwinds with gentle urgency, a sweltering night-time adventure which boils out into a soft, Jazzy, upbeat delight. This is, indeed, music to lose yourself in.
“Love Is A Pest” circles with delicate flute and distinctly African-sounding guitar; mesmerizing, subtly changing finger-picked patterns with nuanced flourishes. An edge of wah-wah guitar, together with Sunny War's highly-listenable voice, combine with ringing chimes and hand-drums to create something intriguingly diverse in its tones. For all the disparate elements, this track, as with the whole album, comes together wonderfully. “Deployed and Destroyed”, a painful tale taken from real events, is as moving as it is engrossing. “Big Baby” takes us out with more of War's slow, sparkling guitar and visceral vocals.
Simple Syrup combines the style and feel of several genres of Roots music, and does so to great effect. In Sunny War's capable hands, Blues, Country, West-African music, Jazz, R&B, and Folk merge seamlessly into a captivating tapestry of sound. (by Chris Wheatley)
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Sunny Gable (from the album Contagious available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Southwest Colorado Folkie Sunny Gable is taking a stroll toward the laboratory. While still very much a singer/songwriter in the Folk genre, and an excellent one at that, her latest Contagious finds Gable a bit more experimental, and at times exhibiting a dash of playful aggression. She has fun with “100,000 Reasons”, a shuffling opener with gypsy Jazz hints while “Bitch” has a Country fiddle opening before four minutes of attitude and defiance. The track is a profanity laden, harmony-heavy hook of a tune of sibling rivalry, a catfight, and a tale of revenge. It’s the kind of song that’s at the theme for a drunken, back-seat singalong.
“Hungarian Heart” is a Garage Rock blast, a bratty Punk tune about a style of tomato grown in Sunny Gables garden before she dips into a Country Gospel tune of family and fate in “I’ll Fly Away”. “Movin On” is a cocktail Jazz tune in a Country disguise and “Until We Meet Again”, with its quiet instrumentation and faint percussion, proves you can rely on Sunny Gables vocals and lyrical ability to carry any tune. “Bitch” and “Hungarian Heart” prove Sunny Gable wants to turn a few heads and push a few buttons. She is far from a one-trick Folkie, and Contagious should be the start of her covering some new ground. (by Bryant Liggett)
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James Yorkston and the Second Hand Orchestra (from the album The Wide, Wide River available on Domino Recording Company) (by Chris Wheatley)
Scottish singer-songwriter James Yorkston has, for some time, been recording and releasing thoughtful, lyrical solo albums for Domino Recording Company as well as several interesting collaborations, not to mention published works of both fiction and non-fiction. His music is evocative, atmospheric and personal, adventurous yet deeply rooted in the Folk tradition. With his latest offering, The Wide, Wide River, James Yorkston teams up with Sweden's intriguingly-named Second Hand Orchestra, a band of musicians, or rather players, as they like to be called, who create ‘instrumental music by the people, for the people’. As James explains, ‘the Second Hand Orchestra hadn’t heard any of these songs before the sessions. I flew to Sweden and said my hellos, then we all sat round and set up our instruments. I would run through a song, once, perhaps twice, and simply encourage the musicians to react to what they were hearing’.
Two things are needed to make such a project a success; empathy between the players and a certain level of technical acumen. When such spontaneous music comes together, it is a delight, and I'm happy to say the The Wide, Wide River does not disappoint. Opener “Ella Mary Leather” unwinds in a remarkably organic fashion, given the set-up. Yorkston's vocals are rounded and smooth with a compelling edge, free of theatrics. Around him, the band stir up a beautiful cloud of sound. Drums, pipes, strings and vocal harmonies leap in and out, whirling in and amongst one another in fascinating patterns. Lyrically, Yorkston is never less than interesting; ‘Ella Mary Leather, I regret ya, but only on certain days of the year’.
“To Soother Her Wee Bit Sorrows” arises like a bird shaking free of the ground and soaring up to the heights, cruising at high speed through the wide blue. There's a fresh feel to everything here, a loose, slightly shambling vibe which nevertheless remains cohesive and accessible. ‘I cannot sleep, unless I hear the trees’ sings Yorkston. There is an arresting immediacy to this music, intensely personal but far from alienating. Rather, James Yorkston and co. conjure up such warm, welcoming atmospheres that it is easy to lose oneself entirely in their shared vision. To do so is a joy.
Loose, ear-catching, acoustic guitar, swaying percussion and inventive strings herald the beginning of “There Is No Upside”, a sparkling, Folk-tinged piece which rolls and reels. Nuanced adornments and some quite wonderful soloing make this a standout amongst strong competition. A great part of the charm of this set lies in picking out individual contributions and wondering at how fluidly it all fits together. Repeated listens will surely guarantee rich rewards. “A Very Old-Fashioned Blues” does indeed carry the pathos and simplicity of the Folk Blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson and similar. There is a deep strand of traditional Folk music to the fore, however, a softer edge and a wider palette. Stripped of the artifice which blights many contemporary singers, James Yorkston's voice, as always, grounds the whole.
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The Georgia Satellites – Rick Richards interview (from the album Ultimate Georgia Satellites available on Cherry Red Records)
RICK RICHARDS INTERVIEW — MARCH 2021 (by Dave Steinfeld)
‘First and foremost, we were a bar band: nothing more, nothing less’. So says Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites in the liner notes of the band’s new box set. Ultimate Georgia Satellites (released March 2021 by Cherry Red Records) includes three discs — one for each of the band’s studio albums — along with assorted bonus tracks that range from several previously unreleased live and studio tunes to their cover of “Hippy Hippy Shake”, which appeared in the 1988 Tom Cruise film Cocktail and provided the band with a minor hit.
Singer/songwriter Dan Baird, lead guitarist Richards, bassist Rick Price, and drummer Mauro Magellan were all veterans of the Atlanta music scene of the early 1980s before they came together as the Georgia Satellites. At a time when most popular bands were experimenting with synthesizers and strange haircuts (A Flock of Seagulls, anyone?), the Satellites were, in fact, an all-American bar band. The bar in question was an Atlanta watering hole called (Between the) Hedges, which Magellan describes as ‘a dive bar packed with people and sin’. After God knows how many gigs and a couple of false starts, the band got signed to Elektra Records and their first, self-titled album became a surprise hit in 1986. The classic opening track, “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” went all the way to number two on the Billboard charts (kept out of the top spot by Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” of all things!). Other highlights of their debut ranged from the second single, “Battleship Chains”, to “Can’t Stand the Pain” (with Richards on lead vocals) to a rocking cover of Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells A Story”, which closes the album. All told, Georgia Satellites is 10 songs of no-nonsense, high-octane, Chuck Berry influenced rock and roll.
The band’s sophomore set, Open All Night, arrived the following year and, like their debut, was produced by Jeff Glixman. Open All Night wasn’t a bad album by any means, but it showed the Satellites to be in something of a holding pattern, and it was mostly ignored by the same people who had devoured their debut. In the box set liner notes, Baird writes, ‘this is my most difficult to love record of the three… I know I suffered from head-up-rectum syndrome at that time’.
After licking their wounds, the Satellites finally returned in late 1989 to close out the decade — and their career — with their long awaited third effort, In the Land of Salvation and Sin. In stark contrast to Open All Night, this album demonstrated a lot of growth. It is, in fact, the band’s masterpiece: 14 songs that saw them experimenting with a variety of styles while never losing sight of their bar band roots. The two songs that bookend the album — “I Dunno” and “Dan Takes Five” are top-notch, autobiographical rockers. But in between, the Satellites take some unexpected detours. “All Over but the Cryin’” is an eerie, midtempo tune worthy of The Rolling Stones. “Slaughterhouse” is a pulverizing rocker with Richards on lead vocals. “Shake That Thing” is more traditional Blues Rock (purportedly a tribute to Lowell George). “Sweet Blue Midnight” and the single “Another Chance” are lovely ballads. That more people didn’t hear this record is criminal. But they didn’t. Between that and the usual internal differences, The Georgia Satellites called it a day as the ‘90s dawned.
All four members of the band have stayed busy over the years. Richards and Price have played together, as have Baird and Magellan. Baird had a minor hit in the early ‘90s with the witty “I Love You Period” and continues to release music. Richards has played with Izzy Stradlin, among others. Magellan is also an accomplished visual artist. Commercially, of course, that first album remains their pinnacle. But listening to Ultimate Georgia Satellites, one is left with the feeling that there was so much more to them than that. As the writer Thom Jurek said, ‘If ever a band was miscast as class clowns, it was these guys’.
I had a chance to talk with Rick Richards on the eve of the box set’s release, which was a pleasure.
Dave Steinfeld (DS): First, I wanna ask you about the news box set — which is Georgia Satellites Ultimate on Cherry Red. Tell me a little bit about why now and how much you guys had with the making of the box.
Rick Richards (RR): Okay. I don’t know why now (laughs). And I didn’t have much to do with it. I gave a blurb, you know. I was kind of out of the loop about the release. But I’m really happy with the way it turned out and [they] did a wonderful job.
DS: Will there be any promotion for this with the actual band?
RR: No. I’m sorry, but I think that ship done sailed! (laughter) That’s really not an option at this point. It would entail a lot of footwork and a lot of bridge-unburning, so to speak. I mean, I’m not averse to it at all — but it’s not gonna happen.
DS: One thing I hadn’t known is that the Satellites had done an EP back in the day — you and Dan [and] a different rhythm section, which I guess took off in the UK.
RR: That’s correct.
DS: Had you guys actually broken up before “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” became a hit and then re-grouped with Mauro and Rick Price?
RR: Yes. We were a house band at this bar in Atlanta. It got to the point where it was being kinda redundant; every Monday night, it was the same thing. Actually, when Brendan was in the band — Brendan O’Brien is still a producer of Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam — you know Brendan.
RR: And so Brendan and I had this [band] with another guy here in Atlanta from the band The Producers. We were cuttin’ demos. And to my recollection — this could be hazy — but at that point, Dan decided that if we weren’t gonna be totally committed to the Satellites, there was no use carrying on. Okay, fair enough.
So, we sat around for [awhile] and then I was at a bookstore in Atlanta and I saw Melody Maker. And there was an article about our EP, which had just come out over there. Our road manager, who was British, took some demo tapes over to England, and we got a deal with this independent label called Making Waves. At that point, I was picking up Melody Maker — and NME as well — and there was this rave review about the EP! So, you know, we got back together and said ‘Look, man, there’s something going on here’. We continued. And everything kinda fell in line. Back over here, we secured some management and got some label interest. And it just kinda took off from there.
DS: It’s interesting to me how much American music continues to be popular in England.
RR: God, I hope so! It’s the last bastion of fans that will stay with you the whole time. Because they’re rockers.
DS: A couple of minutes ago, you mentioned a band called The Producers. Is this the band I’m thinking of that was sort of an early 80s, Beatle-y band?
RR: Yeah! They were local. At the time, the bass player Kyle [Henderson] —
DS: I know Kyle! That’s why I asked.
RR: Oh, he’s a great dude. Kyle had split; he wanted to do a solo thing. So, Brendan and I and actually Mauro did some demos for him, for a guy named Andrew Slater. [He] went on to be president of Sony or something. He just did the Laurel Canyon movie, he produced some of the Warren Zevon stuff. We were really tight.
DS: Wow. It’s a small world. Reading the [notes in] the box set, it seems like you and Dan both felt that the third album, In the Land of Salvation and Sin, was your best. [But] as good as it was, that was the last album. You guys called it quits not long after that, if I remember. But it showed a lot of growth — particularly from Open All Night.
RR: Yes, it did. Actually, there was one review — I think in Musician — that really slammed it. And you know, a couple of the guys took it to heart. I don’t know if that was a factor in the band breaking up. I think it was just time for Dan to move on; he wanted to do his own thing. That record was a bit of a growth period for us. To me, it was the starting point of doing something really cool and nailing down a style. Not to disparage it, but “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” — I think this was a bit of a [step forward] from that era and I thought perhaps we were on the right track. Little did I know! We were heading for disaster.
DS: The Satellites covered [Ringo Starr’s] “Don’t Pass Me By” [on Open All Night]. People cover The Beatles all the time, but never that song! What prompted that?
RR: One night, I just started doin’ that riff — you know, the old ronka-ronka riff. Dan looked at me and I said ‘just trust me on this one!’ And I started doing “Don’t Pass Me By.” I don’t know why, to tell you the truth. I guess I’d been listening to The White Album. And I thought, ‘Well, this is kind of a country song and we’re bastardizing country songs. So, let’s bastardize this riff!’ So, we did.
DS: I know a little about Dan’s solo career. But tell me a bit about what you’ve been up to in the intervening years and maybe Rick Price and Mauro. I know that you played with Izzy Stradlin for a while.
RR: Well, Rick [Price] and I carried on the name The Satellites. We did a few years just on the marquee value of the name. Only because it was financially feasible. But still, it was carrying on the tradition of the bar band scenario. They still dug it, so [that] was great. And the Izzy thing — I did a bunch of records with him. A few with Geffen and then some independent stuff. So yeah, I worked with him for many years!
DS: And what are you up to these days?
RR: I’m sittin’ on the veranda, having’ an Irish Coffee, talkin’ to you, man! (laughter) It’s been such a fucked up year. I was out on the road one year ago. My last gig was in Endmondton, Alberta. It was 28 below, right? So, I’m going, ‘Is [this] worth it’, you know? But now I would give a million dollars to be back up there! You don’t miss your water ’til the well runs dry.
DS: Yeah, it’s been a bizarre year.
RR: Where are you?
DS: I’m actually in New York City. We got hit — as you know — really hard, really early. I’ve never had a year where I’ve spent so much time in my own ‘hood.
RR: What part of town are you in?
DS: I’m on the Upper East Side… Since the pandemic began, I’ve probably been downtown a total of half a dozen times in the last year.
RR: Yeah, that’s not good. It reminds me of the Warren Zevon song, “Splendid Isolation.” ‘I wanna live on the Upper East Side and never go down in the streets!’
DS: (laughter) I forgot about that line!
RR: It’s a perfect song, man!
DS: It is! When I was growing up, he was one of my favorite artists. And he was also one of the first people I interviewed when I started writing.
RR: No kidding!
DS: Yeah, I hadn’t been doing it very long. You know — I was really green and it was me and Zevon at a New York venue before his show. I was terrified!
RR: Yeah, right! I played on [the album] Sentimental Hygiene, actually. I had a cut on there.
DS: No kidding!
RR: Yeah, here’s the deal on that. I was friends with [Andrew] Slater. He goes, ‘Rick, I got this song’. He played it to me over the phone. I said, ‘Okay!’ So I go down there and it’s “Even A Dog Can Shake Hands.” I play on it and I [think], “Okay, cool’. So, I’m on the road, the record comes out, I get it — and the first thing I do is look at the credits, right? And I’m going ‘Hmmm… Waddy Wachtel’. My name’s not on there. The Indian restaurant delivery guy got a mention and I don’t! So, I track Slater down [and say] ‘Hey man, what up?’ He goes, ‘Well, the next five thousand copies, your name will be on it. It was a mistake’. Yeah, right. They erased most of my playing. I had two licks in the whole song because Waddy went in and re-cut it. But just being able to be in that rarified air of the Zevon thing was very cool… He was a fucking great songwriter.
DS: Oh yeah. I remember when I talked to him, I think the album that had just come out was the one before the last; it was called My Ride’s Here.
RR: That’s a great album.
DS: Yeah. I think on the cover, he’s in a hearse and a couple of the songs had to do with death. I remember asking him about that during the interview and he was a little vague. He just said, ‘Well, I think death is a good subject for any songwriter to make friends with’. And like a month later, he [was] diagnosed with lung cancer. I always thought that he knew but wasn’t ready to say anything yet.
RR: Especially during the album Life’ll Kill Ya. There’s about four or five songs about death that one. “My Shit’s Fucked Up,” you know? “Don’t Let Us Get Sick.” So, it was [like] a premonition.
DS: Yeah, it was almost like a trilogy, those last [three Zevon albums]. Rick, is there anything else you’d like me to cover?
RR: No, man. If you have anything else, let me know. It’s a pleasure speaking to you.
RR: I love to talk to someone who knows what the fuck they’re talking about! (laughter)
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Ninebarrow (from the album A Pocket Full of Acorns available on Winding Track Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
It is easy to forget that musicians are members of the workforce, striving to pay the bills like the rest of us. For every Pop superstar there are thousands of equally talented (arguably more talented) artists making beautiful music for a more modest, yet highly appreciative audience. Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere, who record as Ninebarrow, are two such creatives. Since taking the brave step of relinquishing their full-time jobs nigh on a decade ago, the duo, who hail from Dorset, England, have garnered widespread critical acclaim and produced some fine contemporary Folk music 'rooted in the landscape and history of the British Isles'. Their latest offering, A Pocket Full of Acorns, features a mix of originals and standards, with the duo joined by cellist Lee Mackenzie, John Parker on double bass, and percussionist Evan Carson.
“Come January” starts things off with deep, expressive piano over soft pulses of double bass notes. Ninebarrow's harmonized vocals are a delight, warm and affecting. The delicate, nuanced differences in their delivery weave together to create an alluring spell. Lyrically and sonically, Ninebarrow conjure up an emotional soundscape of pastoral beauty glimmering brightly under grey skies. With finger-picked strings, a gently-rolling tempo and more of that wondrous harmonizing, follower “Nestledown” further underlines the quality on display here. With barely perceptible touches, the band summon forth a dreamy, hazy cloud of music which evolves as organically, and with as much mesmerizing loveliness, as a time-lapse video of flowers bursting forth from the dirt.
‘Our music will always be inspired by the incredible landscape and history of our native Dorset’, state Ninebarrow, and this is never more apparent than on the breathtaking “Zunshine in the Winter”, one of two tracks inspired by the Victorian Dorset-dialect poet William Barnes. For those not acquainted with the locale, Dorset is an historic county on England's south coast, famed for its fossil-rich cliffs and natural beauty, sometimes rugged, often picturesque. It's a place where ancient lore seems to seep from the earth into the sky and “Zunshine in the Winter”, with its rolling organ, shimmering piano, and softly undulating vocals captures this perfectly. Companion piece, “Cry Unity”, in contrast, rattles and rolls with a real punch. Thumping drums and some strident playing, draw favourable comparisons to the Folk Rock of Robert Plant. It's a joy of a track, which showcases the versatility of these magnificent players.
The traditional “Hey John Barleycorn”, centred on the duo's vocals and underpinned by breathing organ, with slowly mounting percussion, is simply stunning. Two nautically-themed tracks take us out. “Farewell Shanty” is an acapella standout, which ably demonstrates the power and poise of the duo's vocals. The reference may be dated, but thoughts drift back to the classic doo-wop era and the majestic wonder of The Everly Brothers. Closer “Sailors All”, with softly-singing, echoing piano and a final immersion into those incredible vocal harmonies, is a lovely way to end this magnificent set.
It's small wonder that Ninebarrow have gained so much attention. This is heartfelt, deeply moving music, crafted by earnest musicians and preserving the best Folk traditions for modern times.
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Josh Hoyer and Soul Colossal (from the album Natural Born Hustler available on Color Red Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
It’s hard to call something a throwback when whatever the ‘throwback’ sound plays on a futuristic soundtrack. Such is the case for Natural Born Hustler, the latest, 2021 release from Josh Hoyer and Soul Colossal, a horn heavy record of rich soulful vocals and laid back, subtle funk melodies. “Hustler” kicks things off with Josh Hoyer singing of being a ‘natural born, hustler’, throwing out a confident rally cry and challenge that if ‘the world wants you to sink or swim, I ain’t going under’. Cuts like “Whisper” and “Changing” are easy-going, slow, steady and perfect slow dance material while “Sunday Lies” is a big blast of hip as Hoyer moves between spoken word and scatting vocals.
The tempo is kicked up for “The Night”, “Automatic” is a Bluesy ballad that Hoyer belts out with a cocktail-lounge croon. Josh Hoyer and Soul Colassal are a perfect match; powerhouse vocals pushing a stacked band that could score a Tarantino film. Natural Born Hustler is a big package of groove that flows from heavy Soul and Funk to Gospel R&B. (by Bryant Liggett)
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